Tribunal Court Overturns Homicide Conviction for 29-Year-Old Mother

By: Zoe Whitehouse
Impunity Watch Reporter, Latin America

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — A state tribunal court in Querétaro, Mexico has overturned a sixteen-year prison conviction for Dafne McPherson, a woman accused of inducing her own abortion. The reviewing court has found the evidence presented by prosecutors was unreliable.

                                          Dafne McPherson leaving the tribunal court in Querétaro. Photo Courtesy of El Heraldo de Mexico.

In early 2015, McPherson felt a sharp pain in her abdomen while working at a Liverpool department store in San Juan del Río. At the time, McPherson was unaware that she was pregnant. Rather, she believed that her weight gain and infrequent periods were symptoms of her hypothyroidism.

McPherson then went into labor in a department store bathroom and sought medical assistance. However, private security guards at the department store refused to call a Red Cross ambulance, leading McPherson to wait for a private ambulance. The attending paramedics noted that she had fainted and had experienced extreme blood loss when they arrived.

While Mexico City outlawed the criminalization of abortion in 2007, conservative Mexican states are still filing criminal charges against women who miscarry or experience complications during childbirth. On September 2, 2015, police detained McPherson.

Prosecutors had alleged that McPherson intentionally induced her abortion and suffocated the baby when attempting to flush infant down the toilet.

McPherson’s initial case was fraught with defense issues. Her family members state McPherson’s first attorney charged for legal services but failed to develop a defense or trial strategy. Immediately prior to trial, the lower court disqualified her second attorney because he had not prepared for a newly implemented judicial system. The court then assigned a public defender at the last minute. However, the attorney failed to call witnesses, to offer exculpatory evidence, and to object to the prosecutor’s characterization of McPherson’s acts as doing something “not even a dog would do.”

As a result, Dafne McPherson was convicted of homicide and sentenced to a sixteen-year prison term in 2016.

29-Year-Old Dafne McPherson. Photo Courtesy of El Heraldo de Mexico.

Aureliano Hernández, McPherson’s appellate attorney, had introduced evidence that the infant’s death was caused by inadequate facilities and a lack of medical attorney. Attorney Hernández had stated that the baby fell into the toilet because McPherson had fainted from extreme blood loss.

The tribunal court overturned McPherson’s conviction. The twenty-nine-year-old mother has returned home to her seven-year-old daughter, Lia.

For further information, please see: 

BBC — Mexico woman accused of killing newborn child after miscarriage freed — 25 Jan. 2019

The Guardian — Mexican woman jailed for miscarriage released after conviction is overturned — 25 Jan. 2019

The Guardian — Mexico baby death trial reveals growing persecution of women who miscarry — 8 Nov. 2017

Two Imprisoned Journalists in Myanmar Will Appeal to Supreme Court

By: Natalie Maier
Impunity Watch, Press Freedom                                                                                                                                                               

YANGON, Myanmar — Two Reuters journalists imprisoned under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act filed an appeal Friday with the Supreme Court to overturn their convictions.

Reuters journalist Wa Lone is escorted by police as he leaves court Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, outside Yangon, Myanmar. (2018 AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been in prison for over a year now. The pair were arrested on December 12, 2017 and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, a colonial-era law that punishes the distribution or publication of documents that may be “useful to the enemy.”

Prosecutors claim that the two obtained important and secret state documents relating to a military campaign in Rakhine State by the Myanmar army. Since 2016, over 680,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the area amidst genocide. The United Nations has opened up an investigation into the crisis, calling it “ethnic cleansing.”

Lone and Soe Oo, reporters for the Reuters news agency, had been investigating a mass grave in the city of Inn Din. They claim that they were framed by police, who handed them documents, and then arrested them for possession.

On January 11, 2019, an appellate judge upheld the original conviction of 7 years in prison for hard labor. This appeal claims that lower court rulings involved errors in judicial procedure. Khin Maung Zaw, counsel for the journalists, said the lower courts did not properly evaluate witness testimony. Observers at the trial described testimony of the prosecution as vague and contradictory. However, one police officer who testified for the prosecution admitted that the two journalists were indeed the target of a sting operation.

The case has caught the attention of human rights and free speech advocacy groups around the world. Concerns about the status of press freedom in Myanmar are growing, with 43 journalists arrested wince 2015.

For more information, please see:

1 February 2019 – AP/The Diplomat –  Landmark Myanmar Press Freedom Case Set for Supreme Court Appeal 

2018 – PEN America – Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo

U.S. Continues to Denounce Relations with the United Nations

By: Brianna Ferrante
Impunity Watch Reporter, North American Desk

The State department has ceased communications on all new and outstanding inquiries from special rapporteurs at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

Human Rights Council meeting. Photo Courtesy of The United Nations.
Special rapporteurs are a network of independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. The specialized division is tasked with acting as global monitors of human rights and war crimes around the world.
The most pertinent challenge facing the group is non-compliance with its investigatory processes by governments.  In addition,  persistent lack of resources coupled with weak measures that have little to no viable implementation methods further frustrate the the group’s objective. With a multitude of variables beyond its control, the special rapporteurs operation in this capacity is highly dependent on the influence of nations that demonstrate cooperation.
The United States has not responded to any UN requests for compliance on investigations into potential human rights abuses since May 7, 2018. There are currently 13 outstanding, unanswered investigation requests. The majority of these investigations are in relation to migrants at southern border.
The final May 7th correspondence occurred about a month and a half before Trump Administration formally announced it had withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
A January 14th report from the Human Rights Watch as part of its annual review contained its most recent “List of Issues” regarding the United States. The report was primarily focused on the country’s mass incarceration and disproportionate sentencing, along with proposed recommendations and additional past recommendations that had been on the same issue.
The continual denial of cooperation places the US among the likes of nations such as North Korea, who has traditionally denied any cooperation with UN investigations into its conduct.
According to a 2010 study by the Brookings Institute, America’s place in the global system yields immense influence over other nations, which makes its public non-compliance with the UN’s human rights efforts particularly problematic. While the nation serves as a catalyst for advancing human rights when its administration is readily and willing to comply with the council’s inquiries, continual refusal to do say establishes a precedent that could result in other nation’s following suit.
For more information, please visit:

Angola Decriminalizes Same-Sex Conduct

By: Skylar Salim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

LUANDA, Angola –On January 23, 2019, the Angolan parliament voted to remove a “vices against nature” provision from their penal code. This provision acted to criminalize all same-sex conduct. Additionally, the parliament adopted a new penal code, the first time they changed the code since gaining independence from Portugal in 1975. The new penal code also prohibits discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation, providing that anyone who discriminates on this basis can face up to two years in prison. These changes to the penal code come from the administration of the newly elected President Joao Lourenco.

Iris Angola celebrating after the Angolan government gave them legal status. Photo courtesy of Iris Angola.

There have not been any known prosecutions under the removed provision. The Human Rights Watch states that despite this, the law gave “tacit state support to discrimination against gender and sexual minorities, contributing to a climate of impunity.” A UN Independent Expert, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, also notes that that law was “one of the root causes behind grave and pervasive human rights violations against gay, lesbian, trans and bisexual people.” Madrigal-Borloz urged countries who still criminalize same-sex conduct to restructure their own legal frameworks as Angola has in order to support human rights imperatives.

Angola’s LGBT rights lobby group, Iris Angola, claims that members must deal with discrimination when attempting to access health care, employment and education. While the group was established in 2013, the Angolan government gave Iris Angola legal status in 2017. Other countries such as Mozambique have legalized same-sex conducted but declined to give legal status to groups like Iris Angola.

Recently more countries have begun the process of decriminalizing same sex conduct. In 2018, India struck down anti-homosexuality laws. Closer to Angola, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe have, also through legislative reform, abolished laws that criminalize same-sex relationships. While some countries are beginning to move in the same direction as Angola, LGBT communities still face discrimination and prosecution in many places. In Nigeria someone can face up to 14 years in prison for being in a same sex relationship. Dolapo Badmos, a high ranking policewoman in Nigeria, recently told LGBT people living in the country to leave or face persecution. Human rights groups have noted that 69 countries still criminalize same-sex conduct, and push for this to change as it has in Angola.

For further information, please see:

HRW – Angola Decriminalizes Same-Sex Conduct – 23 January 2019

AP – Angola Decriminalizes Same-Sex Conduct, Rights Group says – 24 January 2019

CNN – Angola has Decriminalized Same-Sex Relationships, Rights Group says – 24 January 2019

UN News – UN Welcomes Angola’s Repeal of Anti-gay law, and ban on Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation – 25 January 2019

African Court Closes 51st Ordinary Session

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

TUNIS, Tunisia – On Friday, 7 December 2018, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) commenced its 51st Ordinary Session in Tunis, Tunisia. During the 51st Ordinary Session, the court rendered four judgements.

African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights 51st Ordinary Session in Tunis, Tunisia. Photo Courtesy of AfCHPR.

In the first matter, Ingabire Victoire Umuhoze was originally sentenced to eight years in prison for allegedly propagating ideologies of genocide and terrorism against the Republic of Rwanda. On appeal her sentence was increased by fifteen years. In 2014, Umuhoze applied to AfCHPR alleging that the government violated her rights. In 2017, the court ruled in favor of Umuhoze. They then ordered the government to restore her rights and delayed a decision on reparations. In the 51st Ordinary Session, the court dismissed Umuhoze’s request for an expunged record but ordered the Rwandan government to pay a total of 65,230,000 Rwandese Francs to Umuhoze and her family for material and moral prejudice suffered.

In the case of Armand Guehi v. United Republic of Tanzania, the court considered several allegations that during Guehi’s domestic proceedings the United Republic of Tanzania violated his rights under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Guehi alleged that the government deprived his right to a fair trial by not providing access to an attorney or a translator. Guehi alleged that he was in custody for an unreasonable amount of time and held in poor conditions. The African Court found that the United Republic of Tanzania violated the Charter in regards to the condition during Guehi’s custody and dismissed the other allegations. The court ordered the government to pay Guehi reparations amounting to $2,500 USD.

In the third matter, Wereme Wangoko appealed to the African Court alleging the United Republic of Tanzania violated the applicant’s right to equity, equal protection under the law, non discrimination, and a fair trial under the African Charter. The court made a decision on the merits after dismissing the government’s objections for jurisdiction and admissibility. The court found that the United Republic of Tanzania did not violate any articles of the African Charter.

In the case of Mgosi Mwita v. United Republic of Tanzania, the court ruled that the government had violated Mwita’s right to equality and equal protection under the law. The United Republic of Tanzania was ordered to release Mwita from prison and to provide him with copies of his court documents. Additionally, the court allowed Mwita thirty days to file for reparations against the government.

In addition to the four judgements, AfCHPR recently announced that in 2019 they would be implementing reforms. These reforms would focus on modernizing the court’s workflow and case management as well as a new organization of internal methods and court procedures. Additionally, African Court President stated that AfCHPR would work to strengthen cooperation with the States, stakeholders, academia and other regional courts.

AfCHPR meets during Ordinary Sessions four times a year. They will convene for their 52nd Ordinary Session in 2019. As of November 2018, the court has received 190 applications and has finalized 48 of their cases.

For further information, please see:

Modern Ghana – 2019 is year for human rights reform – African Court – 8 January 2019

African Union –  Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza v. Republic of Rwanda – 7 December 2019

African Union – Armand Guehi v. United Republic of Tanzania – 7 December 2019

African Union – Werema Wangoko v. United Republic of Tanzania – 7 December 2019

African Union – Mgosi Mwita v. United Republic of Tanzania – 7 December 2019

African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights – African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to Deliver Four Judgements on Friday in Tunis – 5 December 2018